By Mary Divine
Posted: 04/10/2014 12:01:00 AM CDT |
Brian Keller, left, and Zachary Quinn co-founded Love Your Melon, an Afton-based nonprofit organization that has given away experiences such as helicopter and limo rides - and more than 6,000 cotton-knit hats - to children with cancer.
Ashley Boesel buzzed over downtown Minneapolis in a helicopter this week -- accompanied by Superman.
The 8-year-old Cottage Grove girl gazed down on Target Field, the Mississippi River and "the hole that was the Metrodome" at dusk Tuesday in an adventure the young leukemia patient said she'll always remember.
That's just what Superman -- aka Zachary Quinn -- wanted to hear.
Quinn is one of the founders of Love Your Melon, an Afton-based nonprofit organization that has given away experiences such as helicopter and limo rides -- and more than 6,000 cotton-knit hats -- to children with cancer.
Here's how it works: For every Love Your Melon hat purchased, the Love Your Melon crew donates a hat to a child with cancer.
The foundation also sells Love Your Melon daypacks and iPhone covers; the sale of 10 daypacks or 25 iPhone covers equals a helicopter ride.
Love Your Melon has sold 12,000 hats so far and expects to triple that number this year. Quinn and Love Your Melon co-founder Brian Keller, have set a daunting goal: They want to give a hat to every American child with cancer.
"It's all about embracing what you have and giving these kids some confidence," said Quinn, who lives in St. Mary's Point, MN. "The hats provide warmth through their time in the hospital and restore confidence when they're losing their hair."
Kris Boesel said her daughter, a third-grader at Pullman Elementary School in St. Paul Park, received one of the first Love Your Melon hats after the nonprofit's creation in 2012.
"It was so nice knowing that someone cared enough to purchase the hat," she said. "We were so humbled by their kindness."
Quinn and Keller also gave Ashley's older sister, Cala, her own hat and brought her along for the helicopter adventure.
"Whatever they did for Ashley, they did for Cala, too," she said. "We always try to make things equal, and they understand that. They're just great.
Love Your Melon started as a homework assignment for a class at the University of St. Thomas. Quinn and Keller were asked to come up with an idea for a self-sustainable business for their Introduction to Entrepreneurship class in 2012.
Quinn, who was reading Blake Mycoskie's book "Start Something That Matters," suggested that they embrace the "buy-one, donate-one" business model. Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS, a California company that donates a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair sold; part of the profit for each pair of sunglasses TOMS sells goes toward an effort to restore the eyesight of people in developing countries.
"It tied in well for us because we knew we were going to be selling to college kids, and we knew we had to give them something that they could afford to buy, but still see the impact that they were going to have on somebody else's life," Quinn said.
"They needed to see that tangible project because they are going to wear the same hat that the kid gets to wear, too. It's a really cool experience just sharing that love." ]
Manufacturing the hats in the United States and keeping those donated in the country was key, he said.
"People get excited about this because it is something they can do in their community," Quinn said. "So many buy-one, give-one programs give to other countries -- you can't discount that, it's necessary -- but we feel that something needs to come from here and go back to here."
The foundation is headquartered in Afton's Old Village area at 3321 St. Croix Trail S., across the street from the Afton House Inn, in the space that formerly housed the Afton Historical Society Press.
Hundreds of Love Your Melon hats are color-coded and stored in clear-plastic bins in the building's lower level. The hats, which have been manufactured by a company in Oregon, will soon be made by Minnesota Knitting Mills in Mendota Heights, MN.
Each hat features a "Love Your Melon" patch in felt or leather; hats range in price from $25 to $30.